MOH monitoring Sars-like virus in Saudi Arabia

SINGAPORE - The Health Ministry is "closely monitoring" the Sars-like virus that recently infected two health workers in Saudi Arabia, it said yesterday.

But it has not advised against visiting the country as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not recommended any restrictions on travelling to affected areas, added the ministry's statement in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The ministry has, however, issued a health advisory to Singaporean pilgrims, urging them to be vaccinated against influenza and meningitis.

The meningitis jab is compulsory for Singaporeans travelling to Saudi Arabia for the umrah, or minor pilgrimage, and the main haj pilgrimage, said Mr Mohd Roslan Jaafar, secretary of the Association of Muslim Travel Agents of Singapore.

The ministry also recommends the pneumococcal jab for those aged 65 and older or who face chronic health conditions.

The haj is one of Islam's five basic requirements that all Muslims must carry out at least once in their lifetime, if they can afford to do so.

The umrah can be made any time, but the haj season is in October this year.

The Sars-like virus, known as novel coronavirus, is from the same family of viruses that cause the common cold. One of the viruses caused the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in Asia in 2003. The WHO has named the new virus the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Travellers to affected areas should observe good personal hygiene, said the ministry.

"Pilgrims should wear a mask and seek medical attention promptly if they become unwell with fever, cough or breathlessness while travelling or within 10 days after returning to Singapore, and inform the doctor of their travel history," a ministry spokesman said.

The Association of Muslim Travel Agents of Singapore said yesterday it would alert its members and pilgrims to the ministry's advisory note. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or Muis, also said it is working with the association to ensure that umrah pilgrims heed the advice.

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